Why Won't You Trust Me?
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “My spouse doesn't trust me, how do I regain his or her trust?”
Issues of trust touch all relationships in one way or another. We either have difficulty trusting others or are frustrated that someone won’t trust us.
Intimacy actually is opening yourself up and sharing some of the deeper parts of yourself with another; therefore, it always exposes some degree of vulnerability and involves an element of risk. As soon as you open up, you expose yourself to the possibility of being hurt. You’ve opened to being ridiculed or rejected, and you’ve chosen to lay down your normal protective barriers. Even the simple act of opening your heart and caring is risky. As soon as you care about someone, what happens with them and to them really matters. You become exposed to loss and disappointment.
Ultimately, trust has to do with feeling safe to be open and vulnerable with someone, trusting that they will respect, honor and care for you and your feelings. Trust occurs best when we feel completely safe. We are then able to relax, let our guard down, and just be ourselves without having to worry about being hurt or needing to be self-conscious in fear of being judged, ridiculed or rejected. It is in this open, honest, and exposed state that deep intimacy truly flourishes. Much like being with someone in a perfect garden—like the Garden of Eden—where the weather is ideal, there is no hint of danger, and you feel completely safe with and confident in the person you are with.
Even though the prospect of actually creating a relational Eden is a bit idealistic, this is the environment that we were created to exist in and is something we can deliberately strive towards even if we can’t perfectly pull it off. If we can commit ourselves to creating an umbrella of safety over our relationship we can create a shelter under which we can relax, and openly and intimately enjoy our lives together. Our relationship becomes a sanctuary, a safe harbor, a place we long to come home to.
Creating a relational sanctuary requires a mutual commitment to making the environment a safe place to be open, vulnerable, and free from self-consciousness and fear. This mutual commitment plants the seed from which trust grows. There are two key commitments that each person must maintain in order to create the umbrella of safety and begin to establish a foundation of trust. In order for this endeavor to work well, both people must consistently follow through and act out both commitments.
The first commitment involves how you treat others: Commit yourself to being trustworthy. Trustworthiness exists when a person always recognizes and respects the incredible infinite worth and value of another, and remembers that they are vulnerable and can be hurt. This is not to say that we can’t be playful, and sometimes even rowdy. But when we are given access to a person’s innermost self, we recognize it as a special privilege and remember that this is where they are vulnerable. We realize our potential to hurt them and we commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to avoid hurting, devaluing, disrespecting or dishonoring them. We commit ourselves to being trustworthy. We recognize that no one owes us trust. In fact, if we truly care about the other’s well-being we would do well not to even ask them to trust us. Rather we can simply focus on being as trustworthy as possible and humbly allow them to determine the extent to which they feel safe trusting us.
The second commitment involves how I treat myself. This is actually the key element: Require others to be trustworthy toward you. This commitment requires that you first recognize and respect your own incredible worth and value, your own vulnerability. As a result, you require anyone that you allow access into your inner sanctuary to proceed with honor and care. When someone gets distracted and forgets to treat you with honor, you respectfully inform them that access to your inner sanctuary is a special privilege that is granted by invitation only, that they will be asked to leave if they continue to behave poorly, and future access may be denied. They need to prove themselves worthy of your trust. You do not owe them your trust, it is earned and must be maintained and continually reestablished through respectful, honoring behavior.
It is important to understand that trust is never something that is earned once and for all. Trust is something that is warranted by consistent honor and care towards another. Trust can be betrayed in an instant. Becoming caught up in your own feelings while even momentarily forgetting about the ultimate well-being of the other is all it takes to be untrustworthy. Thus, focusing on being trustworthy towards the other is far more useful then focusing on getting the other to trust you. When you additionally make respect and honor of you a prerequisite to allowing someone access to your own vulnerable places you begin to trust yourself, and feel deeply cared for and self-confident. Therefore, even if the other person forgets to care about you, even for a moment, you know that you won’t forget!
When two people mutually commit themselves to being simultaneously trustworthy towards the other, and require the other to treat them with honor and respect, the relationship begins to feel extremely safe. Both will tend to relax and open up, creating greater opportunities for deep and satisfying intimacy. If you consistently act in a trustworthy manner others will be far more likely to choose to trust you. After all, isn’t feeling safe enough to relax, open up and just be yourself without the fear of being ridiculed or rejected the state that most of us want to live in. And isn’t the ideal relationship one where entering into the other’s presence feels like coming home into the safety of the garden.